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Ombudsman Mechanisms

General overview

The Ombudsman system has been extended throughout the European Union territory, and although there are some slight differences between countries, the traditional Ombudsman is generally constituted as an independent body in charge of carrying out a form of control and monitoring of public administration activities in its interaction with citizens.

Inspired by the national Ombudsmen, the European Ombudsman has been created as "an independent and impartial body that holds the EU administration to account".

Nevertheless, some countries have developed a public system of alternative dispute resolution based on sectoral Ombudsman schemes, in charge of dealing with disputes between private parties.

These out of court systems have achieved the highest degree of evolution in the Nordic countries (namely Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Finland), for example, the Nordic Consumer Ombudsmen. These systems are not only an interesting experience of ADR mechanisms but are also a model of integration and collaboration between countries.

These countries have established schemes pursuing collective redress for consumers in specific sectors, however, these sort of mechanisms are an exception within the member states' legal frameworks, since in most of the cases only individual claims can be addressed to the sectoral Ombudsmen.

Another big difference between countries is the binding nature of the decisions emanated from the Ombudsman offices. In some cases, those decisions are considered merely non-binding recommendations, or at least subject to the acceptance of the claimant, thus still leaving room for traditional courts to deal with the dispute.

As a conclusion, sectoral Ombudsman systems still are within the EU context in an incipient phase as effective ADR mechanisms. When it comes to collective redress, however, the tendency shows that countries are increasingly willing to adopt these kind of schemes in their legislation as a method for providing protection to consumers and solving private disputes in specific economic sectors, mainly commercial activities, finances and banking.

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